Abbas resumes unity efforts as statehood bid falters

As PA statehood bid moves out of limelight, Palestinian Authority president is expected to meet with Hamas's Khaled Mashaal.

PA President Abbas with Hamas leader Khaled  Mashaal 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Ho New)
PA President Abbas with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ho New)
The prisoner exchange agreement between Israel and Hamas has stolen the show from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s high-profile statehood bid at the UN, Palestinian political analysts said on Thursday.
The agreement, which came as a complete surprise to Abbas, has also prompted the PA president to resume his efforts to achieve “national unity” with Hamas.
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Abbas is expected to meet soon with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal for renewed talks on ways of achieving unity. On Wednesday, Mashaal phoned Abbas and briefed him on the details of the agreement, and the two men agreed to meet soon.
Most PA officials in Ramallah refrained from praising Hamas for its role in the prisoner swap, highlighting instead the claim that the deal was a severe and painful blow to Israel.
The PA leadership is referring to the deal as a “huge national achievement,” without noting Hamas’s role.
However, Palestinian analysts, including some who are affiliated with the PA, admitted that the prisoner exchange was a “big achievement” for Hamas.
Most analysts agreed that the deal would significantly boost Hamas’s popularity and badly undermine the PA leadership’s credibility.
“The Palestinian Authority has been negotiating with Israel for 20 years and didn’t achieve what Hamas achieved by capturing Schalit,” newspaper commentator Anwar Sharif said.
“Many Palestinians are now saying that Hamas is right and Abbas is wrong.”
The deal was announced on Tuesday while Abbas was visiting Venezuela in the context of his ongoing efforts to muster world-wide support for his application to the UN for full membership of a Palestinian state.
Abbas is scheduled to visit Paris on Friday for talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the statehood bid. Earlier this week, Abbas failed to convince Columbia to vote in favor of the statehood plan in the Security Council.
But his tour has now been eclipsed by the drama surrounding the signing of the prisoner exchange.
Abbas and his aides have since welcomed the “intention” to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jail, but have stopped short of giving credit to Hamas.
“There’s no doubt that this is a significant achievement,” political analyst Adel Abdel Rahman said. “Hamas has succeeded in keeping Gilad Schalit in captivity inside the Gaza Strip despite the Israeli siege. For the past five years, Israel’s security apparatuses have failed to reach the soldier.”
Another Palestinian analyst with close ties to the PA leadership, Talal Okal, said the prisoner deal “glorifies the Palestinian resistance and is a humiliating slap on the face of Israel.”
Okal urged Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah faction to seize the opportunity and resume their efforts to achieve national reconciliation, “in order to foil Israel’s malicious goals and schemes.”
The agreement coincided with a two-week-old hunger strike by many Palestinian prisoners in Israel. The PA leadership has been accused by families of the inmates of failing to do enough to secure their release. In the eyes of many Palestinians, Hamas has succeeded where Abbas has failed.
The deal also shows that Hamas’s relations with new Egyptian leadership are stronger than ever. Hamas did not have much faith in ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s regime – a fact that delayed the signing of a the prisoner exchange agreement with Israel.